Reading guide for Beijing Coma by Ma Jian

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Beijing Coma

A Novel

By Ma Jian

Beijing Coma
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: May 2008,
    592 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2009,
    624 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Introduction
Through an interweaving and often overlapping narrative, Ma Jian leads us through the life of Dai Wei, using memories as his stepping stones from the past to the present. As we follow Dai Wei from childhood through adolescence to his years as a student at university, we bear witness to an entire nation’s struggle against corruption and oppression and its citizens’ collective movement toward freedom.

  1. What was your initial reaction to the opening passage of the novel, written with second-person pronouns that appear to address you directly? How did your understanding of this passage change at the end of the novel?

  2. In what ways do the political affiliations of his father impact Dai Wei as a child? How does his mother’s reaction further influence Dai Wei’s life? How do his parents resolve the clash of family obligation and civic duty?

  3. Ma Jian writes, “The literal meaning of the Chinese characters for ‘revolution’ is ‘elimination of life’” (p. 55). How does this apply to Dai Wei’s understanding of the Cultural Revolution in which his father participated? How does this statement play out in the novel’s themes?

  4. How does Dai Wei’s attitude toward women develop and progress? What are the similarities and differences between the relationships he forms with the four primary women in his life—his mother, Lulu, A-Mei, and Tian Yi?

  5. How does memory influence the novel’s theme, plot, characterization, and imagery? In what way do the five senses define and distort Dai Wei’s recollection of the past—and his recovery in the present?

  6. Discuss the significance of cultural heritage and identity in Dai Wei and A-Mei’s courtship. How does geography shape the characters later in the novel, especially in terms of the various provinces and countries affected by the protests?

  7. What is the significance of The Book of Mountains and Seas? When he is left with only his imagination, how does Dai Wei’s recollection of past events, places, and people merge with his memories of this book in particular?

  8. How does his mother’s strict adherence and loyalty to the Communist Party affect Dai Wei? How does this work to both distance mother and son and also bond them together? After Dai Wei becomes comatose, how does his mother’s sense of nationalism change?

  9. Discuss the following quote: “Leaders emerge in times of chaos, and it’s always the radical ones who gain the support of the people” (p. 175). How does this apply to the several revolutions and counterrevolutions throughout history? What does it suggest about the students depicted in the novel, in particular those struggling for power during the protests?

  10. What is the role of technology and information industries in Ma Jian’s description of a modernizing China? How have hand-held cameras, telephones, and the foreign media transformed the process of protest?

  11. Discuss the importance and perception of the father figure as portrayed in the novel, especially as it relates to Dai Wei and his family. How is this mirrored in other characters? In what respect did the Cultural Revolution of their fathers’ generation shape their own student movements, which led to the protests of 1989?

  12. The students seem to have vastly different stances and reasons for protesting. Discuss the factors of family, society, power, and politics as they influenced this spectrum of motivations. How would you have responded under similar circumstances?

  13. What made the hunger strike particularly effective in helping the students gain the wide support among the Chinese people? Describe the parallels between the hunger strike and Dai Wei’s comatose state. What does this imply for him both spiritually and as a revolutionary?

  14. If Dai Wei had lost his ability to hear, how would his progress have been affected? How does the fact that Dai Wei can still hear shape his understanding of his surroundings and knowledge of his former friends?

  15. What is the source of Master Yao’s influence on Dai Wei and his mother? How does their life change after Yao is arrested and jailed?

  16. What were your impressions of the sparrow described in the novel’s closing scenes? How does the bird capture the potential of a new future for Dai Wei while relating to his past, especially A-Mei?

  17. What does Beijing Coma teach us about the dualities of death and rebirth, despair and hope, and oppression and freedom?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...
  • Book Jacket
    Mrs. Hemingway
    by Naomi Wood
    Naomi Wood's latest novel, Mrs. Hemingway, is a fictionalized biography covering in turn writer...
  • Book Jacket
    The Stranger on the Train
    by Abbie Taylor
    The opening chapter of Abbie Taylor's debut novel, The Stranger on the Train, took me right back to ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  163The City:
    Dean Koontz

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.